Relic Home and Blacksmith Shop

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

THE POWER OF FAMILY HISTORY

Many of you already know that Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has ties to Mt. Pleasant, namely the Seely Family.  This talk was given at the 2009 SGS (Seely Genealogy Conference) on August 5, 2009.
THE POWER OF
FAMILY HISTORY
By Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Fidelity to Duty
The third quality that can be strengthened 
by a knowledge of family history is closely 
related.  I call it fidelity to duty.
In 1942 the Russian Army defeated the 
German Army in the epic battle of Stalingrad.  
The magnitude of the German and Russian 
soldiers’ fidelity to duty is perhaps unequalled in 
the history of warfare.  The fighting raged for 
months, building by building and even room-byroom through that huge and strategic city.  I do 
not know the German casualties, but I have read 
that well over 300,000 of the 500,000 Russian 
troops who massed for Stalingrad’s defense (3 
out of 5) died in the battle.
1
What does this have to do with family 
history?  The valiant soldiers of the Soviet Union 
were writing home, and to those homebound 
relatives who survived, those letters performed 
the unifying and strengthening function of 
family histories.
This is true of diaries or journals also.  An 
officer in a partisan unit operating behind 
German lines in western Russia in the following 4
year, 1943, noted in his diary “I am writing for 
posterity.”2
    So he was.  His account of these 
Russian partisans’ sacrifices and fidelity to duty 
in the most stressful circumstances is inspiring to 
anyone who loves his country—any country.
3
   “I 
have one main desire,” he wrote in the midst of 
conflict.  “If it is going to be death, then let it be 
quick, not with a serious injury, which would be 
the most frightening of all.”  As he wrote those 
words, his men had already eaten all their 
horses, and as winter approached they were 
starving to death.  Soon after these words were 
written they made a suicide attack and broke out 
of the encirclement.  Many died, but the writer, 
Moskvin, survived, with his journal.
4
Another example of fidelity to duty 
involves our own Seely ancestors in three 
different episodes.
During the Revolutionary War, members of 
our branch of the Seely family were among the 
loyalists who fled the colonies for Nova Scotia.  
They returned to Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, 
but their loyalties to Britain remained, and just 
before the War of 1812, they returned to Canada, 
near Toronto.  There Justus Azel Seely was 
drafted into the British army for a time, and there 
his son, my third great-grandfather, was born in 
1815.  The Seely family’s sturdy British loyalist 
allegiance is evident in the name they gave this 
son:  Justus Wellington Seely.  The Duke of 
Wellington was one of Britain’s heroes in the 
Napoleonic Wards of that same period.
This time our Seely family stayed in 
Canada.  About 20 years later, in 1838, Justus 
Azel Seely was a ship owner in Port Whitby, 
Ontario, about 20 miles northeast of Toronto.  
There, the Mormon missionaries found him and 
he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ 
of Latter-day Saints.  Some months later, this 
Seely family joined the Mormons in Illinois.  
Eight years later they were part of the exodus 
when the Mormons were driven out of that state.
Justus Azel Seely and his son, Justus 
Wellington, shared the Mormon pioneers’ 
adversities in the trek across Iowa, and they 
endured the hard winter at Pigeon Grove above 
Council Bluffs, Iowa.
On June 21, 1847, this Seely family departed 
for the west with a party of six hundred wagons 
and 1,553 people.  It is noteworthy that the 
Seely’s company was the first “emigration 
company” of Mormon pioneers.  Unlike Brigham 
Young’s initial party, which was almost entirely 
men to pioneer the path and secure the 
destination, the Seely’s emigration company 
included people of all ages and an abundance of 
cattle, sheep and chickens.  They went to settle.  
Their duty was to stay for the winter and grow 
crops, or starve in the attempt.  Toward the end 
of their journey this company met Brigham 
Young and others, eastbound to rejoin the main 
body of the Church in western Iowa and 
Nebraska.  Brigham told them of the selected 
place, and they continued westward, rejoicing.
After their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, 
the Seelys spent the first winter in the Old South 
Fort, at the site of what is now Pioneer Park in 
Salt Lake City.  Each family constructed 
adjoining log or adobe dwellings whose back 
wall comprised the outside wall of the fort.  They 
experienced the cold and fear and hunger of the 
first winter in the valley and the next year 
witnessed the miracle of the seagulls who 
rescued their crops from the crickets.
In 1851, four years after their arrival in the 
Salt Lake Valley, Justus Wellington Seely, his 
brother David, and their families joined a 
company of volunteers the Church invited to go 
and settle in Southern California.  On June 11, the 
party arrived in the vicinity of San Bernardino, 
where  Apostles Charles C. Rich and Amasa 
Lyman installed David Seely as the president of 
the first stake (regional organization) in what is 
now California.
The Seelys engaged in many pioneering 
activities in the San Bernardino area, including 
grapevines and a sawmill.  Their sawmill is now 
memorialized by a monument in the mountains 
above San Bernardino in what is now called 
“Seely’s Canyon.”
Six years later, in the fall of 1857, President 
Brigham Young summoned the outlying 
settlements, including San Bernardino, to return 
to Utah to help resist General Albert Sidney 
Johnson’s army in what historians now call the 
“Utah War.”  In an inspiring example of fidelity 
to duty ahead of personal advantage or 
convenience, Justus Wellington Seely and his 
family obediently loaded their belongings into a 
wagon and made their second pioneering 
journey into Utah.  In April 1858, after a fourmonth trek, they arrived and settled near Justus 
Wellington’s parents in Pleasant Grove.
My final example of fidelity to duty is from 
Nels Anderson’s 1942 book, Desert Saints, one of 
the first sociological studies of a Mormon 
community.

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